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(Ted Jarrett)  

VeeJay 256

No. 17    March 19, 1955.




 Word was passed about, that this Chicago journalist was looking to talk with what had long been a faded

name.   Knowledgeables have continued to freely toss Gene Allison’s name about for decades as “the

founding father of Soul Music,” or at the least one of a crucial handful of creators of what was to become a

powerful force in the Western World’s music.


A preacher at a drop-in food pantry and crash pad—both with names long time passing– called, collect.

Gene was a long time staple. It was cold winter of 1988. The landline connection was shaky; snow was

gathering, the background voices and white noise, loud. The sought Soul legend—unaware of his  rightful

slot in the history books—spoke quiet, tentative and with a pained realness.


“You sure you want to talk to me?”


He was reassured. He was a soul that needed to be heard.


“When I was a kid…growing up, we’d always had company comin’ in.  We had a piano and different people

would come in and each one would play different.  After they’d leave, I’d go in there and it got so I could

play anything I heard.  Later, a ways, I got interested in singing with them,” said Mr. Allison.


Gene would sing in church and while still a lad, energetic and filled with joy, he joined various gospel

groups.  With the Skylarks and the Bearfield Four, Gene got to tour the country singing praises to the Lord.

Ted Jarrett was a local talent scout and independent record company owner.  “Someone musta told him

about me,” Gene said, “and he came over and said he’d like to hear me sing.  I didn’t know he’d want me to

sing rock’n’roll.  I didn’t know anything about it.”


Jarrett felt he heard rock’n’roll in the Lord praisers’ voice and told him to relax.  “’I’ll show you what you

need,’” he said to me.  Ted instructed and rung him in, becoming his manager and songwriter.  Late in 1955,

he took the 21 year old into a Nashville studio where they cut the first release, “Goodbye, My Love,” issued

on Jarrett’s own Champion label.  Three further disks were issued, including the locally successful

“Somebody Somewhere.”  In 1958, Jarrett made a deal with one of the then four major record labels, Decca.

Gene recorded what was to be The Big One—the genre breakthrough—a Jarrett tune, “You Can Make It If

You Try.”


“I didn’t know nothin’, that it was gonna be a big hit; nothin’.”


Neither did big-time Decca Records see the light; and took a pass on the option of releasing the disk.  The

independent Chicago-based label, VeeJay heard something special and did release it.  Gene was off and on

the run of his life.


“I didn’t know nothin’,” he said.


“Having Faith,” the follow-up release, made a modest appearance on the national charts, and then the rapid

career fade, into the void.  There was a self-titled album, a rarity for a R&B or a Rock artist to have the

privilege to create back there in the ‘50s.  Nothing momentous happened, other than some very fine music

was left there in those grooves.


“I went to Texas and recorded for some label, down there,” said Gene. “I don’t even remember what label.

Steve Ponci cut some things but we couldn’t get ‘em movin’.”  Gene returned to Nashville and re-cut “You

Can Make It” for one of Jarrett’s labels.  “It sold some,” Gene said.  “But there was no contract behind it and

I was getting tired of the situation.”


Sporadically, fail-to-sell 45s were issued.  Gene Allison’s last documented record was issued by Monument

Records in 1965.


“But, I’m comin’ back,” he added. “Definitely. My back’s getting’ strong again and I’ve been rehearsing. I’ve

been sick and had operations. It took so long to recover and for a while I gave up…But, I’m comin’ back.”


There was a longer pause; background noise came forward.  Surely, he was going to say it. “You know,”

Gene finally said, seemingly oblivious—“you can make it if ya try…hard, real hard.”